Is Waldorf Racist?
As the founder and Program Director of a Waldorf School and a huge advocate for the Waldorf movement, I think its necessary to address some of the myths found on the google machine regarding education. These myths and misunderstandings are from the type of people that have knee jerk reactions to anything that doesn’t fit the mainstream mold. Ironically these comments, blogs, articles, and social media posts are from people who sadly need Waldorf and anthroposophy the most. These are from people who lack the skills to think critically.
The number one myth I hear most often is, “Waldorf is racist”. I hear this often and it could not be further from the truth. It stems from the fact that Ruolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education grew up in Nazi Germany. During Hitler’s reign, millions of people were mistreated, outcast from society and even slaughtered for their race, religion, or what was considered “unfit” such as a disability or malformations. Despite the heavy brainwashing that would’ve occurred for a young Austrian boy growing up in this culture, Steiner believed society was in grave danger if it continued down this path of destruction and dehumanization. This is precisely WHY he founded Waldorf education. At this time, education was only for males and only for the elite. Steiner sought to change that by allowing both boys and girls into school. One of his infamous lectures he says education should be available to everyone, quote “even the savages”. Keep in mind, this is a boy who lived in one of the most racist places and times in human history-Nazi germany. If you read this with the mindset of a 2022 American, sure its effing racist, but if you read it knowing the person lived over 100 years ago without knowing anything about political correctness or offending a minority, you’ll see he meant well. He meant that education should be accessible to all regardless of race, religion, culture, or gender. His early education was heavily racist and historians note that when he realized the foundational beliefs of some of the programs he was in were racist- he removed himself. Also, keep in mind that the founders of America owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves because he inhertied them. It was illegal for him to free them; however he managed to do so in his death. Should we just get rid of everything great Thomas Jefferson did for our country, our people because his actions hundreds of years ago before humans evolved to a higher spiritual place of empathy and equality? Let’s play devil’s advocate here and say that Steiner was racist. Does that discredit the beautiful work he did to guide humans toward reaching higher worlds? He’s the founder of biodynamic farming, commonly called regenerative farming because scientists don’t want to give credit where credit is due.
Some may say, “Well, Waldorf schools primarily have a white student base”. That’s circumstantial in some areas, not intentional. I live in Bozeman. Bozeman is 93% white so the majority of the students who attend my program are white. Does this make us racist? If you go to the Waldorf school in guanacaste, you’ll find Tico and Tica students. Similarly Akluum Waldorf School in Mexico will have primarily Mexican students. I’d never ask them why they don’t have mixes races in their classroom. That would be absurd.
Another question posed is, “Why are Waldorf schools Eurocentric?” Again, this is from someone who took one blog post and called it the Bible. Waldorf schools focus on Grimms fairy tales in the early grades, but also Russian fairy tales, African folktales, Aesop’s fables, islamic tales. In second grade students study Native American legends as Steiner greatly valued the natives, their culture, their awareness of the universe and the spirit worlds. At Epoch we have a native American liaison and a young Lakota boy in our class. In third grade students study the old testament including Moses freeing the Jews! The upper grades study Greek and Norse mythology, the Roman empire and Mesopotamia. We study the work of early humans and cave people and honor their discoveries and innovations that became the foundation for where we are today!
Many Waldorf schools are taking strides towards providing Waldorf education in low income areas to reach students of all races, socioeconomic status, and varying religions. Waldorf advocates are offering Waldorf charter schools in underserved communities to make this education accessible and affordable to all. In our classroom, I have Rachel Isadora’s versions of fairy tales because she’s an African artist and her illustrations are beautiful! We have Asian singing bowls, we’ll make moccasins with Lakota tribe members, compare Islamic Cinderella story to Grimm’s version and the tale of Little Firefly, a Cherokee legend. We will learn both Spanish and German and we will take culture trips to different parts of the world to study and honor other ways of life. We will study how different cultures honor the winter holidays including Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah, St Lucia and we will make and eat foods from around the world. We will invite guest speakers from Native tribes, Africa, the middle east, Hawaii and Asia to speak with our students and tell stories from their culture.
I did not know Rudolf Steiner personally. I have read much of his work and read much from those that study him in depth. I can conclude that Steiner loved the world. He founded Anthroposophy which is the study of what it means to be human. In his work, he alluded to the dire need we have to use our imaginations, learn the interconnectedness of the universe and practice caring for things like plants and animals to develop empathy. In studying fairy tales, creating art and music, philosophy we become the best versions of ourselves and in that spiritual quest to reach a higher place, we become more connected to one another. in loving others, ourselves and the world, violence aggression and angst dissolves. Is that racist? Not in my book. So, to answer the highly offensive question, “Is Waldorf racist?” I’ll answer that with a big fat NO. And, if Steiner was Racist, does that mean Waldorf Schools are racist? Also, a big fat “No”. If Steiner and Waldorf Schools are racist, does that mean we are at Epoch? Also, a resounding NO.